Paul continues in Acts 20.20, “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house,”
We often hear this verse used as justification of door to door evangelism. Let us consider another perspective of this verse. Paul went from door to door of the different groups which comprised the church at Ephesus. The Ephesian church most likely met as small groups (I’m not trying to make a case for or against small groups). This would be one explanation for the numerous elders in the city of Ephesus.
The point here is that Paul went to each of the different groups. By calling the pastors together, as well as meeting with them individually, he was uniting the groups to each other. He was preventing isolationism. Paul was working to keep the church at Ephesus from breaking into a bunch of groups with an ‘us four and no more’ attitude.
Our churches are spread apart far enough that regular interaction is often not practical, even in a day when people in our churches drive for forty-five minutes or more, passing other good churches, to worship in ours. Because of the different schedules of the our churches, opportunities for cooperative activities are rare.
While those activities may be few and far between, we can still encourage our churches to cooperate with other churches as we as pastors seek to make opportunities. The foundation of such unity is built on the Gospel, and a tangible connection between the churches nearly always begins with the pastors’ relationships to each other.
One purpose of our fellowship is to prevent isolation. We gather to build relationships with each other for ministry opportunities down the road. I will give an example from my experience. Several years ago, a family in our church moved from York Springs to three blocks from Grace and Truth Bible Church in Hummelstown. Because I had met and established a relationship with Pastor Dan Norton at the fellowship, I was able to commend wholeheartedly the family to Grace and Truth. This may not have happened had I not developed a relationship with Pastor Norton. To this day, I praise the Lord for that connection.
Another way that we can become isolated is through routine. Routines become comfortable and, in their own right, easy. I find routines to be comfortable, and I almost begin to panic if certain things don’t happen on certain days of the week. What usually happens is that we get so caught up with what we are doing that we can forget that there is something else going on outside of our ministry. The pastor’s fellowship becomes just one more thing on an already full schedule. Without trying to do so, we isolate ourselves by our schedules.
Another way in which we are prone to isolation stems from one of our greatest strengths as independent, fundamental churches. I sometimes fear that we are more independent than we are fundamental. Because another church uses the red hymnal instead of the blue one, or because so and so will be preaching at the fellowship, or because that other guy is associated with some college, or that church has a tract in their rack that I don’t like, — add whatever objection (great or small) — we will limit our exposure to that brother in Christ. We are all acquired tastes to someone else and vice versa, but the ministry of the Gospel is infinitely more significant than personal preference. Our self-imposed isolation becomes little more than self-imposed exile, since we will not avail ourselves of the grace of fellowship in the unity of the Gospel and its ministry.
There is yet another way in which we are prone to isolate ourselves. As I mentioned in the previous article, sometimes problems loom large in our ministry. There are days when just keeping your head above water is a struggle. Your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual reserves are empty, and you would just as soon crawl into a hole and lick your wounds as shake another hand. Problems can give us an Elijah-complex. We are so focused on or weary from the struggle that we begin to think that we are the only one left who is faithful to Christ. Oh, we don’t quite think those exact thoughts, but that is the practical impact.
Let us gather to prevent isolation. As we gather, we can testify of the grace that Christ is working to complete until He returns (Philip. 1.6). While He tarries, we must appropriate that grace for ourselves and tell others about it. Let us gather to testify to each other that Christ’s grace is sufficient. Such omnipotent grace will prevent us from practical isolation.